Man standing on a busy street sidewalk as people quickly pass by.

Whether you’re using a smartphone, drone, or action camera, you might have a choice between making a timelapse or a hyperlapse. Although they sound similar, each has a different purpose. All timelapses compress time, but hyperlapses add a movement dimension.

The Basic Timelapse

The basic idea of a timelapse is easy to understand. It’s a video with an incredibly low frame rate. When you watch a movie, you’re seeing 24 photographs every second. Representing one 24th of that second for every individual frame. This isn’t as fast as reality of course, but it’s fast enough that our brains perceive smooth motion. As you add more frames for every second, the motion becomes ever more smooth, until you approach an image that’s eerily like looking through a window.

This is fine for things that happen at human time scales, but what about filming, for example, a plant growing out of the ground? A plant doesn’t grow much in a 24th of a second, so instead, you might take one frame a day for a year and then play them back at 24 frames a second. Assuming that your camera stayed in exactly the right position, the result would be a video of a plant that shows a year’s worth of growth in just over 15 seconds.

Timelapses have many artistic and scientific uses and you’ll see them used to great effect in nature documentaries. However, they do have limitations when you want to compress time from the viewpoint of a moving subject.

Timelapse + Movement = Hyperlapse

A DJI Mavic Air 2 drone flying with mountains in the background

You may have seen videos where a drone flies over a busy cityscape and cars and people just zoom by below as a 15-minute flight is compressed into 30 seconds. This is an example of a hyperlapse. A hyperlapse is really just a timelapse where the camera moves a long distance in any direction.

That sounds simple, but making a hyperlapse look good poses several challenges. When you take a timelapse, your camera is perfectly stationary and stable. However, if you’re moving around with the camera, the final product is going to look shaky and chaotic.

If you’re making a hyperlapse manually, but taking individual photos, you need to use special software to stabilize the final video. Devices that can make automatic hyperlapses for you such as drones or action cameras like the GoPro series have built-in stabilization.

GoPro HERO9 Black

The Hero 9 Black is the latest flagship action camera from GoPro and includes an impressive automated hyperlapse function.

Another way hyperlapses are often different is that the intervals between images may not be evenly spaced. For example, if you’re making a hyperlapse of a trip, you’d want to make the long boring parts of the trip zoom by, while slowing things down a bit when something interesting is happening.

Timelapses Can Have Movement Too!

Traditional timelapses can have camera motion as well, but here that motion is precisely controlled. Photographers use special programmable motion rigs to move the camera a precise distance and angle at set intervals. So you may then get a timelapse where you’re rotating the camera around a subject incredibly slowly, but it looks like real-time camera movement in the final product. One of the best examples of this can be found in the Fantastic Fungi documentary, where dynamic camera movements are paired with exquisite timelapse footage.

Choosing the Right ‘Lapse

Choosing the right type of timelapse style isn’t hard. It’s all about the subject that you’re filming and how you want the camera to move.

If the subject is going to be in the frame for the duration of the shoot and you only need one angle, then use a normal timelapse. If the subject is going to stay in one spot or move very slowly, you can use a motion control rig to track its movement or show a different angle of it.

If you want to take the camera and run, fly, drive, swim, or otherwise go on an adventure with it, then a hyperlapse is the best choice.

The Best Action Cameras of 2023

GoPro HERO10 Black
Best Action Camera Overall
GoPro HERO10 Black
AKASO V50 Elite
Best Budget Action Camera
AKASO V50 Elite
GoPro HERO11 Black Mini
Best Small Action Camera
GoPro HERO11 Black Mini
insta360 ONE RS
Best 360 Action Camera
insta360 ONE RS
DJI Osmo Action 3
Best 4K Action Camera
DJI Osmo Action 3
GoPro HERO11 Black Creator Edition
Best GoPro
GoPro HERO11 Black Creator Edition
Profile Photo for Sydney Butler Sydney Butler
Sydney Butler has over 20 years of experience as a freelance PC technician and system builder. He's worked for more than a decade in user education and spends his time explaining technology to professional, educational, and mainstream audiences. His interests include VR, PC, Mac, gaming, 3D printing, consumer electronics, the web, and privacy. He holds a Master of Arts degree in Research Psychology with a focus on Cyberpsychology in particular.
Read Full Bio »